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Facebook seeks dismissal of N.Y. man's lawsuit

Facebook calls the suit by Paul Ceglia, in which he seeks half of founder Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in the company, a 'fraudulent shakedown.'

March 27, 2012|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco — Facebook Inc. asked a federal judge to throw out a case brought by a New York state man who claims he's entitled to half of Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in the social networking giant.

Calling it a "fraudulent shakedown," Facebook filed the motion to dismiss the lawsuit Monday. The Menlo Park, Calif., social networking service aims to quash the case that is unfolding in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., ahead of Facebook's initial public stock offering that could value Facebook at $100 billion or more.

Paul Ceglia sued Zuckerberg and Facebook in 2010 in a dispute over a 2003 contract. Facebook alleges the contract that Ceglia claims Zuckerberg signed is a forgery and that the emails he said he exchanged with Zuckerberg were also fake.

"The evidence is in. And it is devastating for Ceglia and his cohorts," Facebook's lawyers wrote in the motion to dismiss. "Ceglia and his co-conspirators have compounded their wrongdoing by destroying and tampering with evidence, obstructing discovery, and defying court orders."

Facebook's lawyers said they obtained 200 emails from Harvard University's server that show the authentic conversations between Zuckerberg and Ceglia.

"Today's motion proves what Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have emphatically stated all along: This case is a fraud," said Orin Snyder, the lead lawyer representing Facebook.

Ceglia's lawyers accused Facebook of trying to dodge the discovery phase of the case.

"We have made a preliminary review of Facebook's motion, which attempts to have this matter ended before Facebook has to provide any discovery and before going to a jury," they said in an emailed statement. "The federal rules of evidence say a jury should weigh the evidence in this case, including experts' declarations in Mr. Ceglia's favor about the authenticity of his contract with Mr. Zuckerberg. Mr. Ceglia deserves his day in court, where the jury will resolve this dispute over the ownership of Facebook."

Facebook's lawyers Monday released for the first time emails that Zuckerberg and Ceglia exchanged in 2004. They said none of the emails that appear in Ceglia's lawsuit were on the Harvard server.

The emails contained in the motion portray Zuckerberg's growing frustration with Ceglia for stiffing him on thousands of dollars he said he was owed for work on a project called StreetFax.

Zuckerberg wrote to Ceglia that his time was valuable and better spent on other things. "I am at a school surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world, cultivating ideas and constantly coming up with great projects to work on," he wrote.

Zuckerberg met Ceglia through a Craigslist ad in 2003. Ceglia says he hired Zuckerberg when he was a Harvard freshman to work on multiple projects, including one that became Facebook.

In his complaint, Ceglia claimed that he had the original contract. Zuckerberg said the second page of the contract with his signature was authentic but the first page had been fabricated.

Facebook accuses Ceglia of forging the first page of the contract and baking it in the sun so it would appear aged. Facebook said its forensic experts found markings on the document that they concluded were left by clips Ceglia used to hang it on a clothesline. Facebook compared the markings to "tan lines caused by a swimsuit."

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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